Getting personal doesn't work.
Labour strategy in the Crewe by election was clearly based on discrediting the Conservative Candidate Edward Timpson. It failed badly and and once again the whole question of personal attacks and negative campaigning is the story as much as the scale of Conservative victory.
Firstly I think there is a clear distinction between negative campaigning and personal attacks; when instead of pointing out the bad points of an opponents policy you are trying to damage your actual opponent by attacking them for who they are or where they are from.
Negative campaigns are common amongst oppositions -it is almost inevetable that some elections become a judgement on the Government of the day and in those cases as an opponent you have little choice but to make the basis of your campaign "Look, the other side have done this wrong or not done something they promised, and therefore you shouldn't vote for them again..." I make no apology for running a negative campaign against the Lib Dems here in Torbay at the last election - pointing up the catastrophic mistakes they had made in running Torbay was ligitimate and relevant to indicating what a Lib dem Government could be like should we ever have one.
In fact the best negative campaign I have ever been involved with was the full page ad we took out in the Herald Express just before polling day in 2007, the advert banner said 'The Lib dems have run this town for 14 of the last 17 years and this is what we have got to show for it: ' and then the whole page was blank.
However there is a fine line between legitimate attacks against another party or it's leaders for what they do; which is OK, and criticising them for who they are, which is wrong. Criticising Mr Timpson for being the son of successful businessman is unfair, criticising him for having had a good education is wrong.
My opponent at the last election got very exercised with us for criticising his party's position on drugs, Europe, law and order - accusing me of being 'negative' in his speech at the count; yet throughout the campaign his people had gone out of their way to always call me 'the man from Windsor' even though by then I had been living in Torbay for two years. It was a blunt attempt to portray me as an unworthy outsider; and like Crewe and Nantwich it failed to impress the voters; Lib dems votes fell to their lowest ever in the current constituency.
At the next election we are going to have to expect more of the same. David Cameron is prepared for a very personal and unpleasant campaign and I have been warned by several people from the 'other' side to expect more of the same here.
But it didn't work last night and it won't work at the next election, whenever it comes.